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Planescape: Torment & Torment: Tides of Numenera devs explore the connections, common themes, and personal experiences

In every way, we tried to take what people loved about Planescape: Torment and push it even further.
Planescape: Torment has a sequel now (okay, so that feels pretty great to say). Technically it's a "thematic sequel", in practice it is every bit the followup to one of the greatest video game stories ever told.
Just as importantly, both Planescape: Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera were designed and brought to life by some of the very same creative minds. This week, we had a chat with two of those minds: Colin McComb – Torment's Creative Lead – and Adam Heine – Torment's Design Lead – to explore the connections between the games, as well as their own experiences working on two sister projects decades apart.

Let's start with the most important thing: can you tell us about yourselves, and your roles in Tides of Numenera and Planescape: Torment?

COLIN: I am the creative lead for Torment: Tides of Numenera, which means I’m responsible for the overall narrative, major characters, and vision. That is not to say that I did this all myself, mind you! People like Adam, Chris, George, Kevin, and Nathan were all extraordinarily helpful in the early drafts of the story and in focusing our attention on how to deliver the proper player experience.
On Planescape: Torment, I was the second designer on the project – when the PS:T team was ready to move into production, I came aboard.
ADAM: As Torment's design lead, my primary role is to design, or oversee design, for the various gameplay systems—everything from combat to conversations to items to companion attitudes. I also designed a few areas within the game and, like Colin, wrote a good chunk of conversations.
On Planescape: Torment, I was a scripter responsible for implementing the areas of the game, including combat AIs and scripted cutscenes.

So, what's the coolest thing you got to work on for either game?

COLIN: Well, getting to shape the story for Torment: Tides of Numenera was definitely the high point. Being involved from start to finish was a huge privilege and a great treat. For PS:T? I’d say either writing the Smoldering Corpse bar or writing Trias’s final dialogue.
ADAM: My favorite part of working on Planescape: Torment was figuring out how to make cranium rats smarter and more deadly as more of them appeared on-screen.
On Numenera, the coolest thing I got to work on was Pat Rothfuss's character Rhin. She intentionally breaks several RPG companion tropes, and it was really interesting trying to figure out how to make her fun and sympathetic without frustrating the player's expectations of her. Discussing story, character, and games with Pat was an additional, extremely pleasant bonus.

Planescape: Torment asked “What can change the nature of man?” Torment: Tides of Numenera asks "What does one life matter?" So why these questions, and what makes the answers important?

COLIN: These are fundamental philosophical questions. Chris created the thematic question for Planescape: Torment, and it resonated strongly with our players. We thought that was one of the strongest appeals for our game – the question that would help our players explore the issues in their own lives. These are ongoing questions – they don’t require you to find the answer and then live by it for the rest of your life. You can come back at different stages of your life and find new nuances and fresh perspectives each time you ask, and each time the question will reward you.

The two Torment games explore morality decades apart from each other. So what's your take on how morality has changed in video games, and did you bring any of these modern ideas into Tides of Numenera?

ADAM: Tides of Numenera absolutely explores morality and shades of gray. One of our conventions from the very start—for both conversations and quests—is that there should almost never be an obvious "best solution." If there's a crazed lunatic holding open a portal to hell, maybe you can kill him, trick him into killing himself, or convince him to live with the pain that caused him to open the portal in the first place, but there's no easy option where he realizes he's wrong and becomes a good, happy person.
I think Torment: Tides of Numenera takes morality a step further than Planescape: Torment
I think Torment: Tides of Numenera takes morality a step further than Planescape: Torment in that there is no good/evil dichotomy built into the system. Whether it's explicit or not, a lot of RPGs are subconsciously built around D&D's alignment system—I've yet to meet an RPG designer whose first inclination is not to think in terms of good/evil/lawful/chaotic. That inclination is something we had to fight against on TTON as well, and certainly you'll find situations here and there where you're asked to make a choice between right and wrong, but much more often you will find your choices are more nuanced than that, where you're forced to make hard decisions about people's lives.

Are there parts of Tides of Numenera that you see as a direct evolution of Planescape: Torment? Anything you set out to do better?

We wanted to honor the strange and alien feel of a living world that is unlike anything else on the market today
COLIN: We explicitly drew our major design pillars from PS:T – a world unlike any other; a deep, personal story (not an epic save the world quest, but a personal narrative); and choice, consequence, and reactivity. We wanted to honor the strange and alien feel of a living world that is unlike anything else on the market today, and we wanted to ensure that the player would feel the story’s direction is a direct consequence of the choices he or she made throughout the game.
ADAM: TTON's combat system represents the greatest departure from Planescape: Torment. It was generally felt that PS:T's combat system was the least interesting part of the game, so we steered combat hard in the opposite direction: turn-based instead of real-time, hand-crafted scenarios instead of filler trash mobs, and the vast majority of fights are avoidable if you say or do the right thing. The result is less combat than you would expect in an RPG, but it's tied to the narrative and far more interesting.
On the other side, conversations and companion arcs will be very familiar to Torment fans. Our conversation system is intentionally designed to look and feel like PS:T, though even there we made a few improvements. The Nano's Scan Thoughts ability, for example, allows you to read the surface thoughts of virtually every NPC you meet, giving you additional insight into their character and story. We pushed companion arcs, too, to the point where a few of them can resolve their storyline—and leave the party forever—before you even reach the end, if you so choose. In every way, we tried to take what people loved about PS:T and push it even further.

Finally, for the biggest fans, the games are connected in so many ways – can we expect any cameos from Planescape: Torment in Tides of Numenera?

COLIN: Yes indeed! We didn’t want the game to be a bunch of in-jokes, but we also seeded a few direct references, and some that were less obvious.
ADAM: Due to IP constraints, there are (almost) no straight-up cameos, but there are a lot of nods to the original. Every single one of our writers is a huge fan of PS:T, and although Colin, George, and I were pretty strict about not letting anyone break the fourth wall, Torment fans will find much to love.